Canadian artist Bryan Adams captured headlines earlier this year when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and urged reform to the reversion provision that seeks to remedy the bargaining imbalance between creators and music labels/publishers by reverting the rights many years later. Adams noted that creators never experience the benefit of reversion since it applies decades after their death. Instead, he proposed a 25 year reversion rule, which he argued was plenty of time for copyright to be exploited by an assignee.
Despite the attention – the Adams appearance garnered more press than any other copyright hearing all year – the Canadian music industry embarrassingly acted as if it never occurred. Yet Adams is back with a submission to the committee that fleshes out the proposal. Aided by former Copyright Board of Canada general counsel Mario Bouchard, the submission recommends that the Copyright Act be amended to allow creators to terminate all copyright transfers 25 years after the date of transfer.
The submission notably issues a warning on copyright term extension, which was included in the CUSMA deal with the U.S. and Mexico, stating:
Canada is now more or less duty-bound to increase copyright protection by 20 years, to “life + 70”. Extending the duration of copyright essentially enriches large firms of intermediaries. It does not to put money in the pockets of most creators.
Economists argue that copyright already lasts too long. Canada should respect its treaty obligations. However, unless Parliament intends copyright to be a law for distributors and not creators and wishes that the rhetoric about creators merely help intermediaries to gain strong exploitation rights with little or no benefit for creators, it should do something to ensure that more of the benefits from copyright extension flow to creators.
Adams raises two key concerns. First, he notes that copyright term extension provides little or no benefit to creators, who will have died decades before the extended protection kicks in. Indeed, as I stated to the Industry committee during my appearance, there is no evidence that creators today drop creative activities due to a perceived lack of incentive that comes from protection that runs for 50 years after their death rather than 70 years.
Second, Adams rightly distinguishes between creators and intermediaries, which presumably include music labels, publishers, distributors, and copyright collectives. It is those intermediaries – not individual creators – who have persistently lobbied for copyright term extension. In fact, while the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage chaired by MP Julie Dabrusin painted itself as being chiefly concerned with assisting creators, the reality is that its witness list was dominated by intermediaries. The full witness list included a few artists and authors, but industry associations, copyright collectives or other intermediaries were far more prevalent. A key test for the committee as it crafts its recommendations will be whether it heeds Adams’ call to distinguish between creators and those that purport to speak on their behalf amid his reminder on who really benefits from copyright term extension.